Champion trainer Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be is 5-1 favourite for Saturday's BetVictor Gold Cup, but does he have the measure of old Cheltenham rival Mister Whitaker?
The £160,000 handicap chase, sponsored by BetVictor, could quite easily be a repeat of the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, when Rather Be was beaten a head by the Mick Channon-trained Mister Whitaker.
However, this time Rather Be will have 9lb less to carry and Henderson’s string have been in fine form all of this week. Is he the best bet in the BetVictor Gold Cup betting?
The BetVictor Gold Cup, still fondly remembered as the Mackeson Gold Cup by older jumps racing aficionados (including me), is a Grade 3 handicap chase run over 2m4f at Cheltenham Racecourse. First run in 1960, it is Cheltenham's first big test of the season.
Just five horses have won it twice; Fortria (1960, 1962), Gay Trip (1969, 1971), Half Free (1984, 1985), Bradbury Star (1993, 1994) and Cyfor Malta (1998, 2002). Last year’s winner, Splash Of Ginge (10st 2lb), is a best-priced 33/1 with Bet365 to join them.
We've already discussed the BetVictor Gold Cup favourite, so let's move on to Mister Whitaker (nap) , who is the 7/1 second favourite with William Hill - and unbeaten in two starts over fences at Cheltenham.
The six-year-old made a winning seasonal return in a Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle at the start of the month, in which he defeated Happy Diva, by two and a quarter lengths.
The competitive and testing Colin Parker is often seen as a barometer for horses who tend to go on to greater things in their careers. Previous winners include Grand National winner Many Clouds, and 2007 and 2010 BetVictor Gold Cup winners, L'Antartique and Little Josh.
Mister Whitaker is a horse in that mould and the 7/1 available about him now could look rather generous come the off time on Saturday.
>> Back Mister Whitaker to win at 7/1 with William Hill
West Sussex trainer Gary Moore has two potential runners of interest in Baron Alco (10st 11lb) and Benatar (11st). Both have good Cheltenham form. Baron Alco finished second in the 2017 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate and Benatar took third behind Shattered Love in the 2018 JLT Novices' Chase, both at Cheltenham Festivals.
Baron Alco (10/1 Bet365) has only been seen on one occasion since, when going down by a head to Charbel in a handicap chase at Chepstow in October, while Benatar (14/1 Paddy Power) finished fourth after running too freely on his reappearance in a graduation chase at Newton Abbott last month also.
Neil Mulholland, no stranger to handicap chase success at Cheltenham, still has Kalondra (8/1 888Sport) and Shantou Village (25/1 William Hill) in the mix. Again, both have plenty of experience at Prestbury Park.
Kalondra ran a good race to finish third behind Traffic Fluide in the Silver Trophy Handicap Chase in April and is reported to be over his fall at Galway when he departed at the second-last fence whilst holding every chance. Already a two-time Cheltenham winner, Shantou Village steps back in trip after weakening from the penultimate obstacle when sixth to Relentless Dreamer last month.
Javert (20/1 888Sport) had been off the course for two and a half years before winning at Uttoxeter in September. He followed that run up with a close second to BetVictor Gold Cup top-weight Frodon in the 2m4f Old Roan Chase, making the odds of 20/1 with most online bookmakers very attractive for an each-way interest.
The seven-year-old mare Happy Diva (nb), trained by Kerry Lee, was never out of the first three in a novice chase campaign last season, winning three times. Her 2¼ length second, on seasonal debut, to our best bet Mister Whitaker at Carlisle is incredibly solid form.
It makes her look well overpriced with Ladbrokes at 25/1, considering that Mister Whitaker is a 7/1 chance in the betting, carrying 15lbs more weight. This will be the biggest field Happy Diva has faced over fences, but she is certainly entitled to come on for the run.
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